Korean Air leads military space rocket launch program using civilian aircraft

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[Courtesy of Korean Air]

SEOUL – South Korea’s leading airline Korean Air to follow in the footsteps of Virgin Orbit, a California-based company that provides small satellite launch services, to analyze the possibility of launching space rockets using airplanes civilians. Development of an air-launched projectile is possible after Washington lifted restrictions on South Korea’s missile development in May.

LauncherOne is a two-stage orbital launcher developed by Virgin Orbit which began operational flights in 2021. It is an air-launched rocket, designed to carry small payloads of up to 300 kilograms after an aerial launch from a carrier plane at high altitude. The rocket is transported to the upper atmosphere aboard a modified Boeing 747-400 and released over the Pacific Ocean.

In a military project commissioned by the Air Force Space Agency, Korean Air (KAL) and a research team from Seoul National University will analyze technical levels, main application technologies, costs operating, remodeling measures for the development of an orbital launcher using a Boeing 747. -400 civil aircraft.

Korean Air said South Korea can overcome geographic limitations in launching space rockets. Aerial launching of projectiles can reduce the cost of constructing and maintaining a separate launch site. “The development of air launches unaffected by weather and geographic conditions is essential to attract the growing demand for small satellite launches around the world,” an unnamed KAL official said in a July 20 statement.

The South Korean Air Force has launched the “Space Odyssey” project to have a space surveillance system by 2030, launch satellites from the air using transport planes from here 2040 and have space weapon threat deterrence capabilities by 2050. South Korea hopes to develop technologies to track and identify space objects and satellites with lasers. The role of anti-satellite weapons includes defensive measures against space, nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

In May, the Defense Ministry unveiled a long-term goal of developing platforms for launching space rockets by air or at sea. Most launchers take off from land-based sites. The advantages of an aerial launch are the flexibility of the launch site and the use of a carrier aircraft which could reduce the propulsion requirements necessary to reach orbit.

South Korea has unveiled its goal of producing small low-orbiting satellites weighing less than 100 kilograms as part of a space program led by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). South Korea’s space program has made slow progress as other countries are reluctant to transfer basic technologies. Three space rockets were launched but two fired in 2009 and 2010 failed to reach orbit.

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